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The Horse

( Originally Published 1918 )



"WOULD you like to hear some eloquent words written about the horse several thousand years ago? I take them from the book of Job, the just man, whose admirable history is related in the Bible."

It was Job wasn't it," asked Jules, "who was tried by the hand of God, lost his health, family, all his goods, and was reduced to such misery that, lying on a dung-hill, he scraped his boils and vermin with a potsherd? His faith in God gave him back his former prosperity."

"Yes, my friend. The just man whose faith in God even the direst misfortunes could not shake has left us these beautiful words on the horse:

'Hast Thou given the horse strength? hast Thou clothed his neck with thunder? Canst Thou make him afraid as a grasshopper? The glory of his nostrils is terrible. He paweth in the valley, and rejoiceth in his strength : he goeth on to meet the armed men. He mocketh at fear, and is not affrighted; neither turneth he back from the sword. The quiver rattleth against him, the glittering spear and the shield. He swalloweth the ground with fierceness and rage : neither believeth he that it is the sound of the trumpet. He saith among the trumpets, Ha, ha; and he smelleth the battle afar off, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.'

"Thus spake Job in the ancient days while around his camel's-skin tent bounded mares and colts under the shade of the palm trees. Now let us listen to our great historian of animals, Buff on, who, in his turn, draws in a few splendid phrases the portrait of the horse.

" `The noblest conquest man has ever made is that of this proud and spirited animal that shares with him the fatigues of war and the glory of battle. As intrepid as its master, the horse sees danger and shrinks not; it becomes accustomed to the clash of arms, loves it, seeks it, and is fired' with the same ardor. It also shares his pleasure in the chase, in the tournament, and in racing. But, no less docile than courageous, it does not let its ardor run away with it; it knows how to control its impulses. Not only does it obey the hand that guides it, but it seems to consult that hand's wishes; always responding to its touch, it quickens or slackens its pace, or stops altogether, compliant in its every act.. It is a creature which renounces itself to exist only by the will of another; which by the promptness and precision of its movements expresses and executes that will; which feels as much as it is desired to and only renders what is asked; which surrenders itself unreservedly, refuses nothing, serves with all its strength, wears itself out, and even dies to obey the better.' Thus Buffon expresses himself in regard to the horse."

I like Job's way of saying it a good deal better," Jules declared.

"I too," his uncle assented. "To my mind, no one has said it better than the old author who lived in the land of palms. In a few sublimely energetic words he paints for us the character of the horse."

"I'm too young," said Emile, "to have an opinion on such a lofty subject; at the same time I will confess, Uncle, that I get lost very easily in Buffon's long sentences."

"In the form in which I have quoted them to you, do not call them long, for on your account I took the liberty to cut them up into separate clauses. In the author's exact words the whole makes but one sentence. From beginning to end, the sonorous period does not give one a chance to take breath."

"All the same, in spite of the cutting, I still lose my way."

"Let us return then to your uncle's simple manner of talking. The appearance of the horse de-notes agility combined with strength. The body is powerful, the chest broad, the rump well rounded, the head somewhat heavy but sustained by strong neck and shoulders; the thighs and shoulders are muscular, legs slender, hocks vigorous and supple. A graceful mane falling on one side runs along the neck ; the tail bears a. thick growth of long hair which the animal uses to drive troublesome flies from its flanks. The eyes are large, set near the surface, and very expressive ; the ears, remarkable for their mobility, point and open in any desired direction in order the better to catch the sound in their trumpet-shaped exterior. The nostrils are full and also very mobile; the upper lip projects and folds over to seize the food, arrange it in a convenient mouthful, and carry it to the teeth, just as a hand would. The whole surface of the skin, which is extremely sensitive, quivers and shakes at the slightest touch. Let us not forget a characteristic peculiar to the horse and other animals that most nearly resemble it, such as the zebra and donkey : on the forelegs, and some-times the hind ones as well, there is a bare spot, hard as horn, and known as a callus.

"The horse's neigh or whinny, as it is called, varies according to the feelings expressed. The whinny of delight is rather long, rising little by little, and ending in a shrill note. At the same time the 'animal kicks out, but not violently or with any desire to do harm—merely as a sign of joy. To express desire the whinny is longer, ends on a lower key, and is not accompanied with any kicking movement. On these occasions the horse sometimes shows its teeth and seems to laugh. The neigh of anger is short and sharp. Vigorous kicks accompany it, the lips are distorted in a grimace, showing the teeth, and the ears lie close to the head and point backward. This last sign shows an intention to bite. The neigh of fear is pitched low and is hoarse and short. It seems to be produced chiefly by blowing through the nostrils, and slightly resembles the lion's roar. The animal's chief mode of defense, kicking, is sure to accompany it. Finally, the note of pain is a deep groan, becoming weaker and weaker, subsiding and then coming again with the alternate inspiration and expiration."

"So when the horse shows its big teeth and seems to laugh, it wants something," Emile broke in.

"Yes, my friend. It is hungry and tired, and it thinks of the repose of the stable, of the crib filled with hay, of the manger with its savory peck of oats. Perhaps it has heard the joyful neighing of its mates and wishes to join them. Horses that are most given to neighing with eagerness or desire are the best horses, the most spirited."

"And if they lay their ears back they want to bite?"

"Yes, that is their way of giving notice that they are going to have revenge for some ill-treatment, by biting.

In our talk on the Auxiliaries, I have already told you of the remarkable structure of their teeth; in particular I showed you how the horse's molars, or grinders, are arranged so as to grind the tough fodder like millstones. A very hard substance called enamel, capable of striking fire like flint, covers the teeth and extends into the underlying and less resistant mass of ivory, forming on the crown of each molar a number of sinuous folds. These hard folds constitute a kind of strong file which tears in pieces the blades of forage when the opposite molar is brought into play. Need I go over all this again?"

"No, Uncle," replied Jules; "we all remember how ivory wears away by degrees, but the folds of enamel cap this softer substance and keep the molars in a proper condition for crushing the food."

"Then I will continue by showing you how by examining a horse's incisors we may learn the animal's age. These incisors are six in number in each jaw. They are accompanied in the upper and often also in the lower jaw by two small canine teeth having the shape of pointed nipples. Beyond these, and until the row of molars begins, the jaw is toothless, and this part is called the bar."

"I know," broke in Louis; "it is in the bar that the bit is placed with which the horse is guided."

"Let us return to the incisors. The two in the middle of the jaw are called the first or central incisors ; the next two, one on the right and the other ,on the left of the first ones, are called the second incisors; finally, the two last, one on each side, are called the third incisors. Remember these names; they will save us the trouble of roundabout expressions.

"A few days after birth the central incisors show themselves in each of the foal's jaws. In one or two months the second incisors appear, and in six or eight months the third incisors pierce the gum. These are the first or milk teeth, as they are called. When the animal is between two and a half and three years old they fall out and are replaced by the second teeth, which make their appearance in the same order as the preceding ones : first the central incisors, then the second incisors, and lastly the third incisors. The three pairs 'succeed one another at intervals of about a year. I will add that the milk teeth are whiter and narrower than the others. You already see that by examining the incisors and noting whether they are first or second teeth we can tell the age of a young horse ; but there are other distinctive marks which we must now learn.

"Here is a picture of the longitudinal section of a horse's incisor. In the lower part, or root, of the tooth is a cavity occupied by the nerve which gives sensitiveness to the tooth and which carries to it, in the blood, the materials for its growth and maintenance. The up-per part, or crown, likewise contains a depression, which is called the pit or cavity of the crown, and is filled with blackish matter. A layer of enamel covers the outside of the tooth, folds over the crown, and extends into the cavity, the walls of which it lines. The rest of the tooth is composed of ivory.

"From this structure you will see that the enamel, continuing uninterruptedly from the outside to the inside, forms a sharp ridge on the edges of the coronal cavity. But this condition does not last long and is found only in incisors of recent formation. In fact, by the grinding of the teeth one against another when the animal chews its forage, the edge of the enamel first crumbles, then wears off little by little, and finally disappears altogether, leaving the ivory exposed on the top of the crown. This friction always going on, the coronal cavity or pit becomes less and less deep until at last there is nothing of it left. The upper face of the crown is then flat instead of hollowed-out as it was at first. This gradual obliteration of the hollow or pit in the crown of the incisor, whether in the first or in the second set of teeth, furnishes a means of determining the horse's age. I have just told you when the milk teeth make their appearance ; I will now add what is to be said about their wearing down. The central incisors of the first set of teeth are worn down so that their crowns are flat in ten months, the second incisors in one year, and the third incisors in from fifteen months to two years. Let us next consider how the horse's age may be determined at a later period.

"I here show you a picture of the incisors of the lower jaw. What do you see that will help you to estimate the horse's age?"

"I see in the first place," answered Jules, "that the teeth are not all of the same age. The two in the middle, the central incisors as you call them, are newer, since the cavities in their crowns are in good condition, with their sharp edges of enamel. The others are older; their crowns are blunted by friction; in fact, they are a good deal worn down."

"Are all six of the same cutting?"

Evidently not, for if they were, the middle incisors would show the most wear, as they come first; but exactly the opposite is the case. Since they are quite new and those on each side are already worn, they must belong to the second cutting."

"That is quite right. Now find the animal's age."

"Let me think a moment. I have it. When the horse is between two and a half and three years old the shedding of the milk teeth begins. The first to be replaced are the central incisors. The jaw you show me has these teeth of the second set quite new. Consequently the horse is about three years old."

"The answer leaves nothing to be desired: the horse is in fact three years old. Now, Louis, what have you to say about this jaw that I next show you?"

"Here, too, the teeth are of different sets, since the central incisors and those next to them are less worn than the others. Moreover, the second incisors are newer than the middle ones, as can be seen from their sharper edges. These second incisors are second teeth; so are the central incisors, which are a little worn because they appeared the preceding year. The third incisors, which show the most wear of all, are milk teeth."

"All that is correct. And the animal's age?"

"It must be four years old. At three the second set of central incisors has grown, and now at four come the incisors next to them."

"Your opinion is mine too: the horse is four years old. Now it is Emile's turn. I will ask him to examine this third picture of a horse's jaw, and I hope he will show his usual perspicacity."

"These teeth," said Emile after some study, "are too large to be milk teeth. All six belong to the second set, and as the newest are the outside incisors the animal must be a year older than the preceding one; that is to say, five years."

"Very good, Emile," applauded his uncle. "You have handled the case like a master. At five years the entire second set of incisors has pushed through and it is too late to learn anything by comparing teeth of first and second sets ; hence-forth the degree of wear in the different incisors is our sole guide. Thus at six years the coronal pit in the central incisors has entirely disappeared, while it is still plainly seen in the third incisors. Finally, at eight years these latter are worn down so that their crowns are smooth. It is then said that the horse no longer shows its age by its teeth. Nevertheless an expert can still detect, on the surface of the incisors as they become more and more worn, certain marks that enable him to estimate, at least pretty nearly, the age of the horse up to the twentieth year and beyond."

"That must be a difficult undertaking," commented Jules.

"Very difficult; therefore I will not dwell on it any longer."



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